The Battle of the Bulge has been a brutal, hard-fought battle. The soldiers were tired, cold, and hungry; and all they wanted was a night off to recharge. That was not to be. They had more pressing matters to attend to, and the fate of the free world might just depend on their success. The Germans had achieved a total surprise attack on the Belgian town of Bastogne, on the morning of December 16, 1944, due to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with Allied offensive plans, and poor aerial reconnaissance because to bad weather. The American forces, specifically the US 101st Airborne Division bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war. The town was vital to the Germans, because it would open up a valuable pathway further north for German expansion. The siege had to be stopped, and the 101st Airborne Division needed help to do it.
The capture of Bastogne was the ultimate goal of the Battle of the Bulge…the German offensive through the Ardennes forest. Bastogne provided a road junction in rough terrain where few roads existed. The Belgian town was defended by the US 101st Airborne Division, which had to be reinforced by troops who straggled in from other battlefields. Food, medical supplies, and other resources eroded as bad weather and relentless German assaults threatened the Americans’ ability to hold out. Nevertheless, Brigadier General Anthony C MacAuliffe met a German surrender demand with a typewritten response of a single word, “Nuts.”
This was as bad as it gets, and they needed a hero. Enter “Old Blood and Guts” Patton. General George S Patton Jr was a “street fighter” of a general. He knew what it took to win, and he refused to lose. He was the kind of leader any army, and indeed any government needed. Patton made the decision, the only possible decision he could make. The plan was a “complex and quick-witted strategy wherein he literally wheeled his 3rd Army a sharp 90° turn in a counterthrust movement.” It sounds like a simple plan, but there is no more risk-laden battlefield maneuver than a 90° turn and then a move across and perpendicular to their own lines of communication. The possibilities of mistakes being make were endless. Still, Patton told his men that lives depended on them, and they needed to be in Bastogne…100 miles away, in five days. Not only that, but the march would be over a mountain pass in frigid temperatures. It seemed an impossible task, but two days later, Patton broke through the German lines and entered Bastogne, relieving the valiant defenders and ultimately pushing the Germans east across the Rhine. I think that if this mission had been asked of any other general, the results might not have been so great. There are generals in war who may annoy everyone around them, but when it comes to doing what is best for the people in trouble, you don’t want anyone else to do the job.